The older I get the less it feels like Christmas. I have the fondest memories of Christmas being this magical time steeped in traditions of cookie baking, decorating, shopping, gift giving, music, and of course, family. My children are both getting older with one still believing in Santa (although likely for the last year) and the older one now assisting me in my Santa duties. Although Christmas has changed in our home as children have grown older, that has little to do with my change in Christmas spirit.
Christmas can easily become a chore in our modern society; a to-do list with specific tasks to be accomplished by specific dates. The list includes all the things and requires frequent checking, re-checking, and revision. This can be stressful as I am sure most of us feel the tug of our holiday to-do lists as the day quickly approaches. In fact, as I write this I am acutely aware of a forgotten item on my list with a due date of none other than today.
We all know it’s not about the lists, the decorations, the cookies, or the gifts. But how do we find the time to slow down during such a busy season and put those things aside? The truth is, we won’t find the time unless we make that our priority and give it the number one spot on our list. It is not something that will just happen. If our approach is to wait until we have the time to contemplate the real meaning of Christmas, we will certainly miss it.
I read the book of Matthew some time ago with the intention of listening to Jen Wilkin’s teaching as I read through each chapter. Yesterday, I listened to teaching #18 titled, “Crucifixion”. I thought I was behind in this teaching as I am now several books beyond Matthew in my Bible reading plan. However, God’s timing is never late and always proves to be perfect.
The teaching for this particular segment includes Matthew 27:15-23. Jesus has been arrested and delivered to Pontius Pilate. A crowd was gathered for the tradition of releasing a prisoner of the crowd’s choosing on the eve of Passover. The prisoners up for potential release included a well-known criminal by the name of Barabbas and Christ Jesus.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:15-17)
The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate then said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27: 21-23)
I have often struggled to understand the crowd’s decision to free Barabbas, a known criminal instead of Jesus, to whom no one could associate an actual crime. It should be enough for me to know this was God’s will and everything happened according to his divine plan. It was necessary for the fulfillment of Scripture and that should be all that is needed to answer my “why” questions.
However, every time I read this passage of Scripture I find myself still displeased with humanity. As I listened to Jen Wilkin’s teaching on Jesus’ crucifixion yesterday, this suddenly made perfect sense. She explained Barabbas’ name literally means, “son of the father.” We know Christ was the Son of the Father.
Therefore, when the crowd was given a choice to release the son who was guilty or the son who was innocent, they chose to release the guilty and crucify the innocent. This begins to make sense when we understand WE ARE THE GUILTY SON who was released from punishment. The crowd chose to release us!
Traditionally, the majority of Biblical focus during the Christmas season is that of events leading to and surrounding Jesus’ birth. But to truly appreciate the meaning of Christmas, we need to understand the full picture of what that birth meant.
The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of Scriptures leading to God’s redemptive plan to restore us to Him as blameless. We cannot be upset with the crowd’s decision to release Barabbas rather than Jesus, as we ourselves are Barabbas. Instead, we can read Matthew 27 with a heart of thanksgiving and gratitude that God made sure the crowd chose to release the guilty party, which was all sinners including you and me
Christmas should not make us feel bound to checklists, obligations, or even traditions. It should be a celebration rather than a chore. It is a time to celebrate our freedom from bondage as we remember the human birth of the One who released each of us from our due punishment and took it upon Himself instead.
I pray we will also extend the gifts of grace and mercy to those around us this Christmas season in honor of Christ Jesus doing so for us.